This month we spoke with CMRRA’s Executive Assistant & Lead Office Administrator, Lydia Couture-Comtois. Lydia shared with us the parts of her job that bring her the most excitement, more on her training in paralegal studies and advice to women working in the music industry!
You’ve been working at CMRRA for nearly eight years as the Executive Assistant & Lead Office Administrator. What part of your job brings you the most excitement?
It’s hard to believe it’s been almost eight years already but there sure has been a lot happening since I joined CMRRA! One of the things I love the most about my role is that I get to be an instrumental part within many aspects of the agency. From events that took months/years of planning like joining forces with the digital powerhouse that is SoundExchange to a change in leadership that brought CMRRA an innovative new President, Paul Shaver, to leading projects like office renovations and fun ones like planning staff events, and we can’t forget transitioning to remote work due to the pandemic, there’s never a shortage of things to do!
There is no boring day! I can confidently say that there is no task too small or too big for our team which is made up of talented and dedicated people truly passionate about the music industry. It’s a team I feel proud and privileged to be a part of. My role gives me this unique opportunity to interact with people at all levels of the organization, be it with new hires, HR, Finance, Operations, members of the Management and Executive Teams, our Canadian Publishers Committee (which oversee and maintain the advancement of the interest of music publishers’ business in Canada), our publisher clients and even the general public. The variety that comes with my position and the various knowledge and skills I get to use have made those last few years fly by very pleasantly.
Can you tell me more about the training you’ve received from CMRRA in paralegal studies?
I’ve always been a bit of geek and with that came an appetite to always continue learning. When I first started working in the music collectives world, I worked at the neighbouring right company Re:Sound and my first few days on the job were spent learning about Copyright tariffs and actually reading them, and I loved it! I also enjoyed explaining those legalities to others as part of my role in licensing then and after that at SOCAN, and over the years I continued to develop my interest for intellectual property law, and in particular for music copyright.
Fast forward to 2018, I got the full support of the CMRRA Executive team to pursue a paralegal certificate part-time in the evenings and weekends for the next two years, and then to attempt the all-day paralegal licensing examination from the Law Society of Ontario. Ontario is special in a way as paralegals are regulated by the same body as lawyers and are recognized legal professionals that can, amongst other things, represent clients in small claims court, tribunals and even for certain criminal charges.
Courses in the certificate covered topics such as evidence and litigation process, employment, criminal and administrative laws, torts and contracts, legal accounting, private practice management and more. After two years of hard work (and shout out to my George Brown College cohort for making it so fun and keeping it challenging!), I passed the Law Society examination and officially became a licensed paralegal in March 2020. I think it might have been the last in person exam for the LSO before the pandemic hit!
In the years that you’ve worked in music licensing, have there been any major developments that have changed the game for music publishers or self-published songwriters? If you had to guess, what major developments do you think could be next?
Having worked in neighbouring, performance, and reproduction rights, one common theme has kept coming back these past 10+ years and that is that things are constantly changing, especially technology. Not to date myself too much but I’m part of the generation that saw the arrival of the World Wide Web and back then I would not have believed it if someone had told me that soon enough I would be able to carry a phone in my pocket that could also be used as a camera, a navigation tool, to send emails and to listen to music, and, all of this would be wire free! Now, I can’t imagine my life without it!
The fast pace that technology is moving at is fantastic in the way that it makes music more easily accessible and gives music creators the ability to connect directly with their fans and with other creators. Music is everywhere with just a simple touch of a button or even a voice command and there it is, and a big part of me loves it. I’m one of those people that always has music playing, whether I’m working, taking the subway, cooking, you name it, there’s music around me.
The other part of me sees an issue with this abundance. Firstly, is quantity really better than quality? From a creator’s perspective, there is so much music available to everyone all the time, how do you make yourself stand out from the others and keep up with this ever-changing technology while still finding time to focus on creating? Suddenly, you not only have to be good at writing compositions and lyrics, but you also must learn to navigate various online platforms and algorithms to load and manage your works, be able to understand and provide metadata, know how to market yourself in a world that’s always watching, understand how copyright laws vary from one territory to another, etc. Music publishers have been great at adapting to this new world and providing these invaluable skills and in-depth knowledge of both technology and the music business to songwriters on top of assisting them with the creative process and providing them with the time and resources to continue to create and grow as an artist. With music being available around us all the time, publishers, along with organizations like CMRRA, are also primordial to keep ensuring that the value of music isn’t forgotten or miscalculated. In my mind, as technology continues to evolve the need for this is only growing.
On March 8, we celebrate International Women’s Day. As we reflect on the progress we’ve made towards achieving gender equality within the music industry, this day can also shine a spotlight on the work that still remains. If you could offer a piece of advice to women working in the music industry, what would it be?
I won’t pretend to be an authority on the subject of gender equality in the industry; I am a francophone woman living in Toronto, working in the music industry and I’m aware of issues related to pay gaps, under representation, bias, harassment, ageism and more in this industry, and in many others. There’s definitively a lot more work to be done to achieve equality, gender-based and otherwise. But I’m optimistic that we are getting on the right path and that some major positive changes have already taken place. Initiatives like the Honey Jam showcase and the Music Publishers Canada’s Women in the Studio program are definitively helping to tip the balance in my opinion. Under representation is certainly an important issue but I’ve also had the chance to work with some great women in this industry that I’ve often seen as mentors; supporting each other is another great move to push things in the right direction. My advice to anyone, as simple as it may seem, would be to know your worth and don’t let anyone out there make you question it or sell yourself short. Also, network and surround yourself with those that see your light, if others want to stay in the dark, believe that it is their loss because it is. Be strong but kind. And take good care of yourself, don’t be afraid to ask for help or to offer it. Keep speaking up, even when you feel no one is listening, you never who is and who it will inspire.
When you’re not at work, how do you spend your time?
Lately, it’s been a lot of staying at home with my two rescue cats thanks to the pandemic but I’m hoping to soon get back to traveling and road tripping. It’s great to just get on the road with one of my sisters. I’m the youngest of four and while my two oldest sisters are still in the Montreal area near the small town where I grew up, and the other one, Stephanie, is here with me in Toronto and is typically the dedicated driver. We turn up the music, sing like no one can hear us (and hopefully no one can!) and we just enjoy the journey. Most times, the destination doesn’t even matter although the ocean always calls to me, perhaps from having grown up spending time in the Gaspesie area or from having lived in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in the past! I also love live music and can’t wait to get back out there with the crowds when it’s safe to do so!
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